The Anchor That Holds

Interesting how you can read passages from the Bible that you’ve read multiple times before and this time they take on a new light. You pull out the gems that you’ve mined before from God’s word and now, when you hold them up to the light, they shine in a different way–another facet presented, a slightly different glory evident. Such is the case with my reading of Psalm 119. For the last three or four readings, what’s stood out, almost above the exaltation of God’s word, is the desperation of the songwriter’s circumstance. Here’s a sampling:

Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me,
    I do not forget Your law.

The insolent smear me with lies,
    but with my whole heart I keep Your precepts;
their heart is unfeeling like fat,
    but I delight in Your law.

Let the insolent be put to shame,
    because they have wronged me with falsehood;
as for me, I will meditate on Your precepts.

My eyes long for Your promise;
    I ask, “When will You comfort me?”

They have almost made an end of me on earth,
    but I have not forsaken Your precepts.

(Psalm 119:61, 69-70, 78, 82, 87 ESV)

The songwriter’s loving the Word, because he’s known what it is to cling to the Word.

And maybe what’s punctuated it even more this morning is my reading in the gospel of Luke where Jesus is tempted by the devil (Lk. 4:1-12). Kind of a dumb idea, I’m thinking, if you’re the devil. Tempting the Son of God? Really? But maybe the devil knows just how weak the flesh really is. Perhaps thought God had gone too far in pursuit of His lost creation and that taking on flesh just might be His undoing. And thus, the confuser, the manipulator of truth, takes his best shot. And how does Jesus hold fast? How does He stand, though the cords of the wicked ensnare Him, the insolent smear Him, and His enemy tries to make an end of Him? With the word of God– “It is written!”

There are many reasons to feed regularly and deeply on God’s word. Many reasons to delight in His law, to meditate on His precepts, to know about the promises. Reasons like knowing God, knowing ourselves, and being transformed in the likeness of Christ through the renewing of our minds. But how about this one? Survival!

Getting through the day. Walking in the valley. Enduring the storm.

Fighting off despair. Saying, “No way” to the accuser’s pathetic shame tactics. Keepin’ on keepin’ on when all you want to do is curl up in the corner and wait for His coming.

The word of God really is the anchor that holds.

Don’t know how folks can do some of the harder things of life without a lifeline. How some can navigate paths which, at times, seems so random and without purpose. How people can makes sense of a world that makes little sense apart from the divine sense of the One who created and sustains all things. How they deal with being tossed all over the place by the sea of life without being tethered to something other than themselves.

So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul . . .

(Hebrews 6:17-19a ESV)

Our anchor lies in what God has said. We’re heirs of the promises He has spoken. We’re recipients of what He has guaranteed. Holding fast to the hope He has communicated. Knowing that it is impossible for God to lie. And in that, we have an anchor for the soul.

I’m impressed this morning with the fresh realization that the songwriter’s “love letter” to the Word wasn’t born out of some intangible, ethereal, theoretical valuing of the God’s revelation. But was born out of the testing of that Word in dealing with the nitty gritty, and often extremely difficult and compromising, circumstances of life.

“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”    ~ Jesus

(Luke 4:4 ESV)

Every word . . . the anchor that holds.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Lard Heart Redemption

We’ve all experienced it: you hear a song and it’s like it was written for you. The lyrics are your lyrics. The sentiment, your sentiment. The message, you couldn’t have said it better yourself. And many of us experience it regularly when we read through the psalms. The inspired songwriters of the Psalter expressing our thoughts, our struggles, our aspirations, our praise.

True of many of the psalms for me, especially true of Psalm 119.

Love this time of year when my reading plan, eight verses at a time for 22 days, steps me through this love song to God’s word. It stirs the soul. Renews a godly ambition towards being a person of the Word. And it reflects something of the heart of those who have tasted and seen the Lord is good. Puts into words the heart’s delight as the living Word provides the catalyst for encountering the living God.

But what hits me this morning–and this, I’m pretty sure for the first time–is that this heart in me, this heart alive to the Word of God, used to be a lard hard.

The insolent smear me with lies,
    but with my whole heart I keep Your precepts;
their heart is unfeeling like fat,
    but I delight in Your law.

(Psalm 119:69-70 ESV)

A heart “unfeeling like fat.” Callous and unfeeling (NIV). Dull and stupid (NLT). Insensate as fat (YLT). Bland as a bucket of lard (MSG).

What a description of the unregenerate heart.

And what a contrast to the heart of stone we so often think of when we think of the heart of the natural man (Ez. 11:19). The heart of stone being rock hard. Fixed, entrenched, stone deaf to God’s voice, without feeling.  Whereas the lard heart, while still without feeling, only has form if it’s chilled and cold. But at room temperature, it forms to nothing, and yet, will form to everything. It’s just there. Existing without any real structure, unconcerned with aligning to any overall purpose. Squished here and there depending on what pressure is applied to where.

And how different is the lard heart from the “whole heart” that seeks to keep God’s precepts. The alive, enflamed with feeling heart that delights in His law. The heart capable of being stirred with pleasure-filled emotion as it hovers over the God-breathed text (2Tim. 3:16). That rejoices even in the pain experienced when the living and active word of God, like a sword, pierces to the dividing of soul and spirit and discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb. 4:12). The heart capable of knowing encounters of the divine kind, rewired to interact with the active agency of God enabled, Son revealing, Spirit delivered illumination.

The law of Your mouth is better to me
    than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

(Psalm 119:72 ESV)

Where does that come from? If I was born with a heart unfeeling like fat, how do I end up here, taking as my own the words of the songwriter?

Lard heart redemption! That’s how.

A heart of stone made into a heart of flesh. A heart unfeeling like fat, infused with a Spirit activated sensitivity to the voice of God.

Oh, what redemption! What regeneration!

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Just another glorious reflection of the multi-faceted work of grace through the finished work of the Son of God.

To God be all the glory!

Amen?

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Imago Dei

I’m no theologian, nor am I into Latin, but Imago Dei, “the image of God,” has been on my radar a lot over the past few months.

It started at an Apologetics Canada Conference a friend invited me to back in March and, not surprisingly, continued as I tied into the Apologetics Canada’s podcast. But it has also been popping up somewhat regularly and frequently in a number of things I have either read or listened to. All to say that I’ve been somewhat taken with the profound implications of Imago Dei, and what it means to be a human being created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27).

Maybe then, I shouldn’t be surprised that it surfaced again this morning as it jumped off the page during my reading in Ephesians.

. . . put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

(Ephesians 4:24 ESV) 

Reminded this morning that, while all men and women have been created in the image of God and thus possess an intrinsic worth, only those born again have been re-created after the likeness of God and thus, with the potential to reflect Him in “true righteousness and holiness,” can also know an intimate walk. Or, as Peter puts it, be “partakers of the divine nature” (2Pet. 1:4).

And I’m a bit in awe at the reminder.

Created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Really? True righteousness? Actual holiness?

Yup! Imago Dei.

That’s who I am in Christ. That’s what I am because of “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich” (2Cor. 8:9). Rich in real righteousness. Abundantly resourced in true holiness. That’s me. That’s the likeness I bear, along with all who are children of God, saved by grace through faith, “and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

No boasting. Just bearing. Bearing the image of God. Feebly at times. Faltering at times. Nevertheless, by His grace, an image bearer of God in true righteousness and holiness.

If this is true, and it is, then how could I not long to heed Paul’s plea to believers to “put on the new self?” To stop walking as the unsaved do, “in the futility of their minds . . . darkened in their understanding . . . alienated from the life of God . . . callous and given to sensuality?” (Eph. 4:17-19)

How could I not desire with great desire to “be renewed in the spirit” of my mind (4:23). To seek the kingdom. To feed on His word. To abide in the Vine. To walk in manner worthy of our calling.

We have the promise, that we are new creations in Christ and the old has passed away (2Cor. 5:17). We have the platform, the righteousness and holiness of our Savior credited to our account (2Cor. 5:21). And we have the power, for we’ve been created, and re-created, after the likeness of God.

Imago Dei.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Not Meant to Walk Alone

Chewing on the first part of Ephesians 4 this morning, verses 1 through 16. And what hits me is that what I have so often read as something directed toward me, is actually, I think, more directed toward we.

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called . . .

(Ephesians 4:1 ESV)

My first inclination is to receive Paul’s exhortation in an individualistic manner. That I need to walk in a manner worthy of my calling. That it’s a call for me to walk as a trophy of grace, the workmanship of God, a pursuer of Christ. But what grabs me is that Paul doesn’t tell me what to do, but instead how to be. Doesn’t provide a list of actions, but a list of attitudes. Doesn’t tell me how to respond as a lone Christian, but how to relate to others as a member of the Body of Christ. Kind of a “two-by-four-over-the-back-of-the-head” reminder that I’m not meant to walk alone.

. . . walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit . . .

(Ephesians 4:1b-4a ESV)

While we are called as individuals, we are not called to walk individually. The worthy manner of walking in Christ is realized as we walk together. In a sense, I don’t need humility, gentleness, or patience if I’m going it alone. Don’t need to esteem others better than myself if I’m not doing life with others. Patiently bearing with one another doesn’t come into play if I only think of the Christian walk revolving around this one, the guy in the chair.

Rather, the worthy walk is one that is done in the context of needing to be eager, or to strive, to maintain the unity created by the Spirit. Not really much of a striving if I only need to be unified with myself. But interweave a bunch of people into my world and let the effort begin. There is not just one, and that one me. But there is one body.

We’re not meant to walk alone.

Read on in this passage and it’s all about how we are to mature “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (v.13). And we’re to do it together.

Though “each one” of us is given his own gift out of the grace-fueled generosity of Christ, the gifts are not meant to be used alone. Gifts are given to individuals “for building up the body of Christ” (v.12). The manner of walk that is a worthy manner is one that bears fruit through believers that grow up in their faith. And that only happens in the context of the whole body, “joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (v.16).

We’re not meant to walk alone. The “manner worthy” walk is the walk of a group of people. People who, apart from the gospel, might never naturally do life together. But people, who because of the gospel, have been called into community to walk together. And that, in a manner worthy of their calling.

The worthy walk is the corporate walk. Not that we don’t pursue, nurture, and abide in a “personal relationship” with Christ. But we do so in preparation to walk in partnered relationship with the Bride of Christ. Our brothers and sisters. Our family.

We’re meant to walk together.

By His grace. For His glory.

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Stride Freely Through Wide Open Spaces

Maybe it’s because I’m literally perched on the edge of the ocean. Maybe it’s because there’s something awe-invoking about broad and wide expanses. Or maybe it’s because I’m still savoring my previous reading and the thought of saints comprehending the incomprehensible “breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of Christ (Eph. 3:18-19). Or, maybe it’s the Spirit. But a verse I encountered in Psalm 119 has me thinking about the immense freedom which is mine in Christ. Freedom not to do as I please, but freedom, by His grace and power, to do what pleases the God who created this vast expanse of water in front of me. It’s the blessing of “a wide place.” Or, as Peterson coins it in the Message, the blessing to “stride freely through wide open spaces.”

As I’m meditating on Psalm 119:45, I go back in my journal to see what I might have written about it previously. Thoughts from 2013 capture much of what I’m chewing on this morning. Here they are . . .

Maybe they won’t out-and-out say it, but I sense that some within the church view obedience as the “price to pay” for salvation. That if you want to get to heaven you have to give up something on earth . . . that if you want to inherit eternal riches you need to take a pass on present rewards. And, to be sure, the Christian is called to “count the cost” (Luke 14:28) . . . to “enter by the narrow gate” (Matt. 7:13) . . . to not live for that which “moth and rust destroys” (Matt. 6:19). But something I read in Psalm 119 this morning reminded that these “restrictions” are in fact “redirections” toward true freedom . . . that instead of giving something up, we are, in fact, gaining life . . . abundant life . . . life to the full (John 10:10).

I will keep Your law continually,
   forever and ever,
and I shall walk in a wide place,
   for I have sought Your precepts.

(Psalm 119:44-45 ESV)

“I shall walk in a wide place” . . . that’s the phrase that caused me to pause and consider.

Other translations render “wide place” as “freedom” or “liberty.” The Young’s Literal Translation renders it a “broad place” . . . because, well, that’s literally what the Hebrew word means . . . large, broad, or wide.

So to observe His law continually . . . to inquire of His precepts diligently . . . is to walk in a wide place . . . to live in freedom. Far from being bound by God’s word, to desire to align ourselves to the revealed will of God is to be emancipated from the cruel taskmaster of the flesh . . . and to be redeemed from the oppressive ways of this world. Far from “paying a price” for salvation, obedience is the fruit of eyes that see, ears that hear, and hearts that have, by the grace of God through the gospel, been made alive to the things of heaven. The holy determination to walk in heaven’s way, by the power of God through the gospel, is to be “free indeed” (John 8:36).

Having been given the mind of Christ . . . having had His laws written on our hearts . . . having been given the Spirit of God to lead us . . . is then to freely tread on the wide open plains of God’s goodness . . . to know the unrestricted reality of His presence . . . to sow with great latitude, confident of the harvest of His blessing. It is the old man, who would try and convince us otherwise . . . the old nature who would entertain a voice sent to deceive us into thinking that freedom is found in subjecting ourselves to our own fleshly desires or to the “enlightened” thinking of this world.

“For freedom Christ has set us free,” Paul writes to the Galatians, “stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1)

It is by faith in the good news of the person of Christ . . . in the good news of the finished work of Christ on our behalf . . . that we were set free. By believing the word of grace and promise, we were rescued from the slave shop of sin. Why wouldn’t we also believe that same word . . . that same “power of God for salvation” . . . to be the way to true freedom . . . to be the context for living life in a wide place?

I find my delight in Your commandments,
   which I love.
I will lift up my hands toward Your commandments, which I love,
   and I will meditate on Your statutes.

(Psalm 119:47-48 ESV)

Wide open spaces. Who get’s to enjoy walking in such places? This guy!

By His grace. For His glory.

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The Incliner of My Heart

If you know the story of King Solomon, there’s something foreboding as you read the 1Kings account of his early days of success on the throne. The throne promised to David. The throne reserved for the heirs of the man after God’s own heart. The throne forever available for those who, like their father David, would walk faithfully with God with all their heart. Solomon knew this well.

When David’s time to die drew near, he commanded Solomon his son, saying, “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, . . . that the LORD may establish His word that He spoke concerning me, saying, ‘If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.'”

(1Kings 2:1-4 ESV)

Wholeheartedness would be the X-factor. It was the identified secret sauce to spiritual success, longevity, and finishing the race. Solomon was taught it from the beginning. That’s why, if you know the story of Solomon, you dread coming to the part later in his story where it says, “When Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God” (1Ki. 11:4). Heavy sigh!

But, this morning, I’m reading in 1Kings 8 and Solomon’s dedication of the temple. The magnificent structure he had built. The place where the ark would settle. The place where the glory would reside. The place, Solomon prayed, where heaven’s portal would be open so that God might hear the prayers of His people. And as Solomon cries out to God for Him to hear from heaven, prophetically almost, he acknowledges the battle for the heart.

“The LORD our God be with us, as He was with our fathers. May He not leave us or forsake us, that He may incline our hearts to Him, to walk in all His ways and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His rules, which He commanded our fathers.”

(1Kings 8:57-58 ESV)

Rather than resolve in his own strength to be wholehearted, Solomon knows the battle for the heart is only won when we ask God to incline the heart.

Put on my radar this morning in 1Kings 8. Reinforced by the Spirit when I moved on to my reading in Psalm 119.

Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes;
   and I will keep it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep Your law
   and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of Your commandments,
   for I delight in it.
Incline my heart to Your testimonies,
   and not to selfish gain!

(Psalm 119:33-36 ESV)

Incline my heart. Stretch it out. Work it like dough that it might be malleable and receptive. Bend it as it needs to be bent. Turn it towards where it needs to be turned. Extend it. Influence it. Incline my heart, O LORD!

Solomon, whose heart would eventually be compromised as he played loose with the world’s pleasures, acknowledged the need for God’s gracious heart work. So does the psalmist as he asks the LORD to teach him, to give him understanding, to lead him in divine paths. Pleading, as did Solomon, that God would incline his heart.

I’m taken this morning with the absolute necessity for a whole heart toward God and yet the absolute dependency on God’s gracious provision to keep the heart whole.

And I’m thankful this morning that, in keeping His promise to never to leave us nor forsake us, God has given us the seal of that promise in the indwelling Holy Spirit (Col. 1:22). The resident Warrior ready to battle daily and engage the flesh (Gal. 5:16-17). The ever-present Power allowing us to partake in the divine nature (2Pet. 1:3-4). The always shining Beacon leading us through divine illumination into all truth (Jn. 16:13).

The One who, if I will ask Him and submit to Him, will be the Incliner of my heart.

Oh, praise God for His wondrous provision through His blessed Spirit.

Incline my heart, O LORD!

By Your grace. For Your glory.

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A Divine Dynamic

Reminded this morning that it’s meant to be less of an activity and more of a dynamic. That the benefit is not just in what I do, but in what I long for God to do. That, in a very real sense, opening my Bible reaches it’s full potential when He’s the one opening it to me.

Open my eyes, that I may behold
   wondrous things out of Your law. . . .

Make me understand the way of Your precepts,
   and I will meditate on Your wondrous works. . . . 

I will run in the way of Your commandments
   when You enlarge my heart!

(Psalm 119:18, 27, 32 ESV)

For some, it might be viewed as a kind of lucky charm. Gotta’ start my day with the Word if I want my day to go well.

For others perhaps, it’s viewed as but a discipline. A good habit. Part of a daily spiritual exercise routine. Gut it out. No pain, no gain.

And for others still, maybe it’s seen more as a text book. There’s information in there I need to know. Good data in, good living out.

And maybe, if I’m honest with myself, in different seasons it’s been each of those for me.

But this morning, I’m a bit in awe as I chew afresh on the fact that every time I read my Bible it provides the opportunity for an out-of-this-world experience. A spiritual dynamic involving an intimate interaction with the One who longs to sanctify me in the truth, and His word is truth (Jn. 17:17).

And truly, I can only behold the wondrous things in God’s word, if God first, by His power and according to His purpose, opens my eyes and reveals wondrous things in it to me. Noodling on His amazing works only happens as He gives me insight into His unfathomable ways. And obedience? Only as He makes room in my heart can the seed of the Word go deep, find good soil, and bear the fruit of walking in His ways.

Every time I reading my Bible it has the potential to be a close encounter of the divine kind.  It’s a divine dynamic.

There is no more sure way to interact with the living God than to sit down with His living Word. Open the Book in front of me and the Spirit inside of me is ready to lead me into truth. Ask Him to open my eyes, clear my mind, and make ready my heart, and it’s an invitation He longs to hear and delights to respond to.

Word of God speak!

By Your grace. For Your glory!

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